Blagogate and Obama: A List of Open Questions
If only Scooter Libby had thought of this: conduct an internal report, exonerate himself, and release it during Christmas week when he and every other percipient witness were at an inaccessible holiday location. Well, it wouldn't have worked because the MSM would have regarded such a stunt coming from a Republican official as laughable. Indeed it only would have spurred the press to gin up its own investigation into potential wrongdoing, if only to prove the self-exonerator wrong.
But the rules aren't the same for the Democrats. When Rahm Emanuel and the other Obama transition team members get a clean bill of health on Blago-gate from their own colleagues, the MSM pronounces itself satisfied.
But this is absurd. A clean bill of health is only possible once all the facts are known. And not many facts are known yet. The transition team put out a sketchy summary, without direct quotations, describing in broad terms its team members' conversations with Blago and his advisors. They did not release emails or other records which might have shed light on the substance and tone of the conversations between the transition team and Blago (and his circle of advisors and emissaries). They did not make any of the key players available to answer questions. (Indeed, with Emanuel in Africa and the president-elect in Hawaii they are about as unavailable as one could possibly be.) If this is "transparency," it's hard to image was opaque will look like with this crowd.
So what's next?
In addition to demanding the release of all original documents (have the servers at the transition team been searched? have all of the team's BlackBerrys been reviewed?) and access to all of the relevant players, the MSM -- if they are truly returning from their sojourn as faux-campaign aides for Team Obama -- should be pursuing a number of lines of inquiry. Without too much difficulty, one can come up with at least five subplots which require further examination.
First, what about the Service Employees International Union? According to the criminal complaint, a high-ranking SEIU official, later reported to be Tom Balanoff, spoke directly with Blago at least twice about a deal. The idea was simple: a labor-friendly senator for a plum spot at a union organization for Blago. The Obama team's summary indicates Balanoff did in fact talk to Valerie Jarrett.
The questions abound. Was Balanoff taking action in furtherance of a conspiracy to sell the Senate seat? Although the Obama summary says that Balanoff and Jarrett "discounted" the notion of a cabinet spot for Blago, we don't know if Balanoff was simultaneously working to get Blago a cushy union job. Moreover, why was the SEIU the go-to labor group to begin with? These queries necessitate some answers.
Second, what's the story with Valerie Jarrett? She was the president-elect's preferred Senate candidate, and then not. Did she catch wind of a deal? The summary says no, but the switch from frontrunner to "not interested" was abrupt to say the least. Jarrett needs to make herself available and answer questions from the press.
Third, what did the president-elect mean in his initial comments on Blago-gate that he had no idea "what was happening"? His own summary acknowledges that he had declared he "had no contact with the Governor's office." But that's not really right, is it? His broad denial seemed to suggest that any discussions about the seat were going on beyond his purview, but the summary suggests he was fully engaged in the list-making of the favored candidates. At the very least he was directing Emanuel on what names to relay and listening to the responses. (Or was the president-elect initially speaking loosely and meant only to indicate that he didn't know "what was happening" in the sense of being ignorant that Blago had in mind a "sale" of the Senate seat?) President-elect Obama should take a break from the beach, make himself available for questioning, and, if he misspoke initially or was being a little too clever, fess up and put it behind him. There is nothing to indicate that the president-elect did anything illegal, but there's plenty to suggest that he hedged and spun to exaggerate his distance from Blago. It's not a crime to fudge the facts with the press and public -- but it's a bad habit that should be broken. Fast.
Fourth, who did Blago's Advisor "B" identified in the criminal complaint talk to, if anyone, in the Obama transition team? It is not clear if Advisor B is any figure identified in the internal review. Advisor B was in the thick of the discussions, according to the criminal complaint, about a potential cabinet post or alternatively a cushy spot with a union organization for Blago. Did that person share the schemes with anyone on the transition team and, if so, did the latter either appeared interested, or alternatively, think to report the bribe-suggesting to the authorities? Or were there other middle-men who chimed in on the Senate seat -- individuals whom the Obama team might not have suspected to be directly linked to Blago?
And fifth, what is really on the Blago-Emanuel tapes? The summary is vague at best. More than one list was presented to Blago's chief of stafff, and it seems Emanuel got out in front of the president-elect in suggesting Jarrett was the preferred candidate. But should Emanuel have been tipped off that Blago was up to something? Was Emanuel checking to make sure the SEIU or other labor groups got the man/gal they wanted? We don't know. And we lack any specifics from the calls to make a judgment. (It is noteworthy that the self-serving line that all Blago would get was "appreciation" is not in the summary.)
We, of course, don't know the exact language and tenor of the recorded calls. But U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald does (or will after he finishes questioning all of his witnesses). Eventually all will be known by grand jurors, trial jurors, and the public at large. It behooves the Obama team to get out everything and answer all questions now, before drip by drip we learn that the contacts might be more problematic or numerous than reported. It is not simply a matter of avoiding legal liability, but of living up to their promises of transparency and preserving that rarest of commodities -- trust.
The test now is really one for the MSM. Will they resume their role as adversarial inquisitor, and insist at each press conference that all questions on the topic be answered? Or will they accept the Obama team's word as gospel -- something they would surely never do for other administrations? There is plenty of work to be done and angles to pursue. After the holidays we'll find out if the media has any intention of doing any of that.